Helping New Shooters Part 1: Intro to being a Mentor

1 Important points at the beginning

I am a range safety officer (RSO) for a private gun club which allows members to bring guests. Many people have their first experience with firearms when a member brings them to our range as a guest. I am writing this article to help any experienced shooter who plans to bring new shooters to the range. I have a fair bit to say about this subject, but I want to put some key points at the beginning. If you only have time for three points, here they are, in order of importance.

  • First, emphasize "ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot." This is the second safety rule in the NRA gun safety rules. It is also the most neglected. New shooters need to learn correct hand and finger position at the beginning. When holding a firearm, the trigger finger should be straight and resting on the side of the frame. The finger should not touch the trigger until the sights are on target.
  • Second, when firing, give people only one cartridge at a time until you know how they will react. This is especially important for semi-autos. Do not have more than one round in the magazine until you know the person can maintain control of the firearm after the shot. Basically, single shot firearms are best for beginners. With a new shooter, make your repeater into a single shot for the first few shots.
  • Third, teach beginners about firearms at home before you come to the range. Teach a lesson in your living room with no live ammunition present. You need to do quite a bit of talking before beginners can shoot, and a live range is a hard place for them to learn. I want to emphasize again, have no live ammunition in the area during this lesson.

These points are not the most critical safety issues, but they are important points that are frequently overlooked.

Hopefully, you will have time and interest to read the rest of this article, but if not, these points will help avoid some common problems. You will have to forgive me if I mention the same points again below. They are worthy of extra mention.

2 Intro

As I mentioned above, I am a range safety officer (RSO) for a private gun club which allows members to bring guests. Bringing new people to the range is an American tradition and helps insure the future of shooting sports. But introducing people to firearms also includes significant responsibilities. When I see a club member bringing inexperienced guests, I always hope that the member has a plan. Otherwise, people's first experience at the range can include watching someone get corrected by the RSO. That is no fun for anyone, including me.

Many parts of this article apply both to inexperienced adults and to children, but having children at the range can involve additional concerns which will be discussed where necessary. Some parts of this article specifically mention pistols, but many points apply to any firearm.

3 You are a mentor

If you are bringing inexperienced shooters to the range, you are a mentor. In addition to teaching a physical skill, you will provide guidance on the attitude and responsibility required to safely handle firearms.

Since, the term "firearm instructor" implies a formal certification, I will use the term "mentor" in this article to describe anyone in the teaching role.

4 Gut check, are you the right mentor?

Before teaching beginners, do a quick gut check and think for a moment: "Am I the right mentor for these students?" Teaching can be emotionally charged, especially when firearms are involved. If you say "stop", the person must stop immediately, without thinking about it first. With spouses, significant others and children, these interactions can be uncomfortable. Remember that if there are problems at the range, the RSO may need to get involved, and that may be even more uncomfortable.

Also, are you comfortable reviewing firearms safety and demonstrating the mechanics of using firearms? If your gun handling is a little rusty, you might want to brush up before you have an audience.

At this point, many of you will feel definitely ready to bring new shooters to the range. That is a good thing. Teaching new shooters is a great American tradition, and it can create lasting memories. I myself have some of these memories from nearly forty years ago. My family did not own guns. Some of my first shooting experiences were with an old family friend who was a sort of extra grandfather to me. He preferred lever action rifles with a peep sight. It is no coincidence that I own such a rifle, and I think of him when I shoot it.

5 Other education opportunities

If your gut check suggests that you or your students would benefit from outside training, there are many choices available. The NRA offers many courses for beginners, and the NRA training programs are well planned and executed. You can also search online for firearms training in your state and find lots of resources.

I also want to make a special mention of junior rifle programs. As an RSO, when children come to the range, I usually say hello to their parents. When the parent tells me their child has been in our club's junior rifle program, I know what I am going to see next. These kids can shoot. Their safety and gun handling is excellent, right on par with trained adults. It is a great thing to see. This junior rifle program meets one evening a week for nineteen weeks a year. Lots of kids love it and do it for a number of years. That amount of training, combined with good coaching and kids sharp eyesight, produces phenomenal results.

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